Foreign Policy Magazine

Man of the World

Shakespeare may never have left England, but he became the most global writer who ever lived.

In the run-up to Brexit in June, as Fleet Street tried to figure out why the Leave campaign was so alluring to voters, some observers employed a famous phrase again and again: “this scepter’d isle,” a description of England in William Shakespeare’s Richard II. A scepter is a symbol of royal authority, and a “scepter’d isle” is an unforgettable image of a sovereign England owing allegiance to no outsider. In this year marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, his language clearly still manages to capture something essential about the way the people of Great Britain, and especially the English, view themselves.

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